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Category Archives: Odds and Ends

Twin Peaks: The Return – A Timeline

For the past two months I have obsessively watched and rewatched every episode of the still in-progress new season of Twin Peaks. I have seen each of the nine episodes so far either four or five times in full. I have also skimmed back through all of the episodes and watched them in pieces for the sole purpose of creating a timeline to determine exactly when each scene is taking place. Before the new limited series began airing this past May, many fans speculated that the show would be taking place in the year 2014 – in order for Laura Palmer’s promise to Agent Cooper in the Season Two finale (“I’ll see you again in 25 years”) to literally become true. As appealing as that notion might be, a close reading of the show – and Mark Frost’s accompanying Secret History of Twin Peaks novel – reveals that nearly all of the action of the new season actually takes place in September and October of 2016. (When I write “nearly all,” I am barring the major flashbacks to 1945 and 1956 New Mexico in Part Eight and the “extra-dimensional” scenes scattered throughout the season that may be seen as taking place “outside of time.”)

The first tip off that Twin Peaks: The Return begins in September of 2016 comes from The Secret History of Twin Peaks. Frost’s novel begins with a memo written by FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (the beloved hard-of-hearing character played by David Lynch on the show) to Special Agent Tammy Preston (a new character played by singer Chrysta Bell) asking her to analyze a secret “dossier” that was recovered from a crime scene in July of 2016. This memo is dated 8/4/2016 and is followed by a notarized response from Preston dated 8/28/16. At the conclusion of Frost’s novel, after Preston has read and annotated the dossier and discovered that its mysterious “compiler” is none other than Major Garland Briggs, there is another notarized statement from her that she doesn’t know “what happened to either Major Briggs or Agent Cooper at this point.” It is not logical that Preston would make this claim in 2016 if the events of the new season had taken place two years previously: Preston, after all, learns a great deal about both Briggs and Cooper (and what happened to them in the 25 years between Seasons Two and Three) in Twin Peaks: The Return.

More evidence comes from the show itself: Bill Hastings’ driver’s license, which can be clearly seen in Part One: My log has a message for you, shows that his birthday is August 15, 1973. In Part Nine: This is the chair, during an instant-classic interrogation scene that is simultaneously both genuinely tragic and genuinely hilarious, Hastings tells Agent Preston that he is 43-years-old, indicating the show takes place after August 15, 2016. It is also during this scene that Hastings, at Preston’s request, writes the day’s date as “9/29,” which, if one counts the days backwards through each episode of the season, means that Bill was arrested on Saturday, September 24. Indeed, when Bill is first interrogated by Buckhorn cop Dave Macklay in Part One, he is asked to account for his whereabouts over the past “three or fours days.” After mentioning that he had been at work on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Bill, a high school principal, tells Dave that he had been at home “all day today,” indicating that Bill was arrested on a Saturday.

Contrary to rampant online speculation, Twin Peaks: The Return has so far followed a surprisingly linear chronology. The only times when there appear to be either flash-forwards or flashbacks are either at the very end or the very beginning of certain episodes. This makes sense given that Lynch has stated he had no clue how he was going to “break up” his 18-hour movie into hour-long segments until he and his editors actually started cutting it. The decision to give the series a sense of structural symmetry by ending most episodes with musical performances at the Roadhouse means that Lynch occasionally flashes forward to a nighttime scene at the Roadhouse before “back-tracking” to the afternoon of the same day in the episode that immediately follows. For whatever it might be worth, I hope some of you find this timeline useful:

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Part One: My log has a message for you.
Day One: Wednesday, September 21
Cooper and ??????? in black-and-white room – ?
Jacoby receives shovels in Twin Peaks – Day
Sam watches glass box in NYC – Night

Day Two: Thursday, September 22
Ben and Jerry Horne and Beverly at the Great Northern – Day
Insurance salesman and Lucy in Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Mr. C goes to Beulah’s in South Dakota – Night
Sam and Tracy watch glass box and are killed in NYC – Night

Day Three: Friday, September 23
Buckhorn police discover corpses of Ruth Davenport and Garland Briggs – Day

Day Two: Thursday, September 22 (Cont’d)
Log Lady calls Hawk in Twin Peaks – Night

Day Four: Saturday, September 24
Constance and Macklay in Buckhorn police station – Day
Bill Hastings is arrested in Buckhorn – Day

Day Three: Friday, September 23 (Cont’d)
Hawk, Andy and Lucy in Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day

Day Four: Saturday, September 24 (Cont’d)
Hastings is interrogated in Buckhorn police station (and says it’s Saturday) – Day
Macklay searches Bill’s car in Buckhorn – Day

Part Two: The stars turn and a time presents itself.
Day Four: Saturday, September 24 (Cont’d)

Phyllis visits Bill in the Buckhorn jail – Night
Duncan and Roger in Las Vegas – Night

Day Three: Friday, September 23
Mr. C, Darya, Ray and Jack in a South Dakota diner – Night

Day Four: Saturday, September 24 (Cont’d)
Hawk at Glastonbury Grove in Twin Peaks – Night
Agent Cooper w/ Laura, MIKE and the Evolution of the Arm in the Red Room – ?
Mr. C gets a new car from Jack in S.D. – Day
Mr. C kills Darya in a S.D. motel – Night
Agent Cooper, Leland, MIKE and the Evolution of the Arm in the Red Room – ?

Day Two: Thursday, September 22 (Cont’d)
Agent Cooper visits glass box / Sam and Tracy are killed – (explicit FLASHBACK to Day Two: Thursday night)

Day Four: Saturday, September 24 (Cont’d)
Sarah Palmer watches television at home – Night
The Chromatics play the Roadhouse – Night

Part Three: Call for help.
Agent Cooper, Naido and “American Girl” in purple purgatory – ?
Day Five: Sunday, September 25

Mr. C crashes car in Black Hills of S.D. – Day
Dougie and Jade in Las Vegas – Day
Drugged Out Mother and Son in Las Vegas – Day
Cops find Mr. C in Black Hills – Day

Day Six: Monday, September 26
Hawk, Andy and Lucy in Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Dr. Jacoby spray-paints shovels in Twin Peaks – Day

Day Five: Sunday, September 25 (Cont’d)
Jade drops Cooper off at Silver Mustang Casino in Vegas – Day

Day Six: Monday, September 26 (Cont’d)
Gordon, Tammy and Albert in Philadelphia – Day
The Cactus Blossoms play the Roadhouse – Night

Part Four: …brings back some memories.
Day Five: Sunday, September 25 (Cont’d)

Cooper at the Silver Mustang Casino – Night
Cooper gets a ride from casino to Dougie’s home in Las Vegas – Night

Day Six: Monday, September 26 (Cont’d)
Gordon Cole meets w/ Denise Bryson in Philadelphia – Night
Sheriff Truman, Andy, Lucy, Bobby and Wally Brando at Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Night
Cooper has breakfast with Janey-E and Sonny Jim – Morning

Day Seven: Tuesday, September 27
Constance and Macklay in Buckhorn – Morning
Gordon, Albert and Tammy drive from airport to Yankton jail – Day
Gordon, Albert and Tammy question Mr. C in jail – Day
Gordon, Albert and Tammy talk at a South Dakota airport – Dusk
Au Revoir Simone plays at the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks- Night

Part Five: Case files.
Day Five: Sunday, September 25
Lorraine talks to hitmen in Vegas (it only makes sense that this conversation would follow the missed hit earlier that day)

Day Eight: Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d)
Constance and Macklay in the Buckhorn morgue – Morning
Mr. C gets breakfast in jail in Yankton – Morning

Day Seven: Tuesday, September 27 (Cont’d)
Steven’s job interview with Mike Nelson in Twin Peaks – Morning
Sheriff Truman and Doris at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Morning

Day Six: Monday, September 26 (Cont’d)
Janey-E gives Cooper a ride to work in Las Vegas – Morning (this scene has to follow the breakfast scene in Part Four)
Cooper attends work meeting in Las Vegas – Morning
Mitchum brothers beat up the Supervisor of the Silver Mustang Casino in Las Vegas – Day
Car thieves attempt to steal Dougie’s car in Rancho Rosa in Las Vegas – Day
Jade mails Great Northern key from Las Vegas to Twin Peaks – Day

Day Seven: Tuesday, September 27 (Cont’d)
Becky asks Shelly for money in RR Diner in Twin Peaks – Day

Day Six: Monday, September 26 (Cont’d)
Cooper gets off work at Lucky 7 in Las Vegas at 5:30pm – Dusk

Day Seven: Tuesday, September 27 (Cont’d)
Hawk and Andy at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Night
Dr. Jacoby’s internet infomercial at 7:00pm – Night

Day Eight: Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d)
Lt. Knox and Col. Davis at the Pentagon in Arlington, VA – Night
Trouble plays at the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks – Night
Tammy studies fingerprints in Philadelphia – Night
Mr. C makes a phone call from Yankton jail – Night

Day Six: Monday, September 26 (Cont’d)
Cooper caresses shoes of statue outside Lucky 7 office in Vegas – Night

Part Six: Don’t die.
Day Six: Monday, September 26 (Cont’d)
Police give Cooper a ride from Lucky 7 office to Dougie’s home in Las Vegas – Night

Day Seven: Tuesday, September 27 (Cont’d)
Albert approaches Diane at Max Von’s Bar in Philadelphia – Night

Day Eight: Wednesday, September 28
Red and Richard meet at a Twin Peaks warehouse – Morning
Carl and Mickey get a ride from the New Fat Trout Trailer Park into Twin Peaks – Morning
Miriam at the RR Diner in Twin Peaks – Morning
Carl witnesses a hit and run in Twin Peaks – Morning
Duncan Todd receives message from Mr. C in Las Vegas – Morning

Day Seven: Tuesday, September 27 (Cont’d)
Dougie’s car is towed away from Rancho Rosa in Las Vegas – Day (This may be a flashback to Monday, September 26.)
Ike the Spike receives hit orders in Las Vegas motel – Day
Cooper meets Bushnell at Lucky 7 in Las Vegas – Day
Janey-E meets loansharks in park in Las Vegas – Day
Ike the Spike kills Lorraine in her office in Las Vegas – Day

Day Eight: Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d)
Red cleans truck in Twin Peaks – Day
Hawk finds Laura’s missing diary pages in Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Doris visits Sheriff Truman at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Sharon Van Etten plays at the Roadhouse – Night

Part Seven: There’s a body all right.
Day Eight Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d):

Jerry, lost in the woods in Twin Peaks, calls Ben at the Great Northern – Day
Hawk meets Sheriff Truman at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Sheriff Truman calls Harry from the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Andy meets Farmer at 2:30pm in Twin Peaks – Day (Andy’s watch says it’s the 10th – could be a Flash-forward to October 10)
Sheriff Truman Skypes with Doc Hayward from the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Lt. Knox meet Macklay at Buckhorn police station – Day
Lt. Knox, Macklay and Constance in the Buckhorn morgue – Day
Gordon and Albert at FBI headquarters in Philadelphia – Day
Gordon and Albert visit Diane at home in Philadelphia – Day
Gordon, Albert, Tammy and Diane fly to Yankton – Day
Diane interviews Mr. C in Yankton prison – Day
Diane talks to Gordon outside of the Yankton prison – Day
Mr. C talks to prison guard in Yankton prison – Day
Andy waits for farmer in Twin Peaks at 5:05pm – Day
Mr. C meets Warden Murphy – Day

Day Seven: Tuesday, September 27 (Cont’d)
Las Vegas police interview Cooper at Lucky 7 office in Las Vegas – Day
Cooper fends off Ike the Spike outside Lucky 7 office in Las Vegas – Dusk
Las Vegas police interview witnesses outside Lucky 7 office – Night

Day Eight Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d):
Ben and Beverly at the Great Northern in Twin Peaks – Night (Cooper’s key arrives two days after Jade mailed it.)
Beverly and Tom at home in Twin Peaks – Night
Jean-Michel Renault at the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks – Night
Mr. C and Ray leave Yankton prison – Night
Bing looks for Billy at the RR Diner in Twin Peaks – Night

Part Eight: Gotta light?
Day Eight: Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d):

Ray shoots Cooper in rural South Dakota – Night
The Nine Inch Nails perform at the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks – Night
Flashbacks to New Mexico in 1945 & 1956

Part Nine: This is the chair.
Day Nine: Thursday, September 29:

Mr. C walks to a South Dakota farm – Morning
Gordon, Tammy, Diane and Albert fly from Yankton to Buckhorn – Day
Mr. C, Hutch and Chantal on a South Dakota farm – Day

Day Eight: Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d):
Fusco brothers, Bushnell Mullins, Cooper and Janey-E in Las Vegas police dept. – Day
Fuscos arrest Ike the Spike in Las Vegas motel – Day

Day Nine: Thursday, September 29 (Cont’d):
Andy and Lucy at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Twin Peaks police visit Betty Briggs – Day
Philadelphia FBI agents visit Buckhorn morgue – Day
Jerry Horne wrestles with his foot in the woods of Twin Peaks – Day
Sheriff Truman, Bobby and Hawk at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Tammy interrogates Bill in a Buckhorn jail – Day
Ben Horne and Beverly in the Great Northern – Night
Hudson Mohawke and Au Revoir Simone perform at the Roadhouse – Night

Part 10: Laura is the one.
Day Nine: Thursday, September 29 (Cont’d):
Richard appears to kill Miriam in her Twin Peaks trailer – Day

Day Eight: Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d):
Steven and Becky at the Fat Trout Trailer Park in Twin Peaks – Day
The Mitchum brothers and Candie at home in Las Vegas – Day
Janey-E takes Cooper to the Doctor in Las Vegas
The Mitchum brothers watch T.V. – Night (The extended weather forecast tells us it’s Wednesday then there is a story about Ike’s arrest, which a news anchor says happened “today.”)
Janey-E and Cooper having sex in their Las Vegas home – Night

Day Nine: Thursday, September 29 (Cont’d):
Nadine watches Jacoby’s video blog from her Twin Peaks drapery store – Night
Janey-E drives Sonny Jim to school and Cooper to work in Vegas – Morning
Jerry is lost in the woods of Twin Peaks – Day
Deputy Chad intercepts the mail at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Richard Horne robs Sylvia Horne at her Twin Peaks home – Day

Day Eight: Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d):
Anthony Sinclair visits Duncan Todd’s Las Vegas office – Night

Day Nine: Thursday, September 29 (Cont’d):
Albert has a dinner date with Constance in Buckhorn – Night

Day Eight: Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d):
Anthony Sinclair visits the Mitchum brothers at the Silver Mustang Casino – Night
The Mitchum brothers at home – Night

Day Nine: Thursday, September 29 (Cont’d):
Albert and Tammy visit Gordon in his Buckhorn hotel room – Night
Ben Horne takes a call from Sylvia at the Great Northern Hotel – Night
The Log Lady calls Hawk at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Night
Rebekah Del Rio performs at the Roadhouse – Night

Part 11: There’s fire where you are going.
Day Nine: Thursday, September 29 (Cont’d)
Kids discover Miriam still alive in Twin Peaks – Day

Day Eight: Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d):
From her trailer Becky calls Shelly at the RR Diner – Day
Becky, Shelly and Carl in the Fat Trout trailer park – Day
Carl calls the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. while giving Shelly a ride – Day
Becky shoots holes in Gersten’s apartment door – Day

Day 10: Friday, September 30 (Cont’d)
Hastings takes the FBI to the “vortex” in Buckhorn – Day

Day Eight: Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d):
Bobby, Shelly and Becky at the RR Diner – Night

Day Nine: Thursday, September 29 (Cont’d):
Hawk shows Truman his map in the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Night (Hawk says, “The major also gave us a date, the day after tomorrow,” putting this scene on the same day as the Twin Peaks scenes in Episode 9)

Day 10: Friday, September 30 (Cont’d)
The FBI agents and Macklay in the Buckhorn police station – Night

Day Nine: Thursday, September 29 (Cont’d)
Bushnell and Cooper at the Lucky Seven office in Vegas – Day
The Mitchum brothers at home in Vegas – Day
Bushnell escorts Cooper to the Mitchum brothers’ limo – Day
Driving through Vegas montage – Day
Cooper meets the Mitchum brothers in the desert – Dusk
Cooper and the Mitchum brothers in a Las Vegas restaurant – Night

Part 12: Let’s rock.
Day 10: Friday, September 30 (Cont’d)
Gordon and Albert initiate Tammy into the Blue Rose Task Force at a Buckhorn hotel – Night
Jerry makes it out of the woods in Twin Peaks – Day
Sarah Palmer shops for liquor at a Twin Peaks grocery store – Day
Carl Rodd talks to Kriscol at the Fat Trout trailer park – Day

Day 8: Wednesday, September 28? 
Cooper and Sonny Jim play catch in their backyard in Las Vegas – Day (this has to be a flashback; we learn in Part 13 that Cooper didn’t come home the night he went out with the Mitchum brothers; this brief scene was almost certainly inserted here so that Kyle MacLachlan would be able to have one scene in this episode.)

Day 10: Friday, September 30 (Cont’d)
Hawk visits Sarah Palmer at home – Day
Miriam at the Calhoun Memorial Hospital – Day
Diane in a hotel bar in Buckhorn – Night
Sheriff Truman visits Ben at the Great Northern – Day
Albert visits Gordon’s hotel room in Buckhorn – Night
Hutch and Chantal kill Warden Murphy in Yankton – Night
Nadine watches Jacoby’s video blog from her Twin Peaks drapery store – Night
Audrey talks to her husband Charlie in his home office – Night (Charlie says, “It’s a new moon tonight, it’ll be dark out there.” The lunar calendar confirms there was a new moon on September 30, 2016.)
Diane in a hotel bar in Buckhorn – Night
The Chromatics perform at the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks – Night

Part 13: What story is that, Charlie? 
Day 10: Friday, September 30 (Cont’d)
The Mitchum brothers and Dougie bestow gifts on Bushnell at Lucky 7 – Morning
Anthony Sinclair calls Duncan Todd in his Las Vegas office – Morning
Movers deliver gym set/BMW to Janey-E in her Vegas home – Day
Sonny Jim plays on his gym set – Night
Mr. C kills Ray in a warehouse in western Montana – Day
Detectives Fusco/Anthony Sinclair/Det. Clark in the Vegas police dept. – Day (Fuscos reference Mr. C escaping prison “two days ago.”)
Chantal and Hutch drive through Utah – Night

Day 11: Saturday, October 1
Janey-E drops Cooper at work/coffee w/ Anthony Sinclair – Morning

Day 10: Friday, September 30 (Cont’d)
Becky calls Shelly at the Double R (says Steven hasn’t been home for “two nights.”) – Day

Day 11: Saturday, October 1
Anthony Sinclair confesses to Bushnell Mullins at Lucky 7 – Day

Day Nine: Thursday, September 29 (Cont’d)
Bobby, Norma, Big Ed and Walter at the Double R – Night (Bobby says “We found some stuff that my dad left today.”

Day 10: Friday, September 30 (Cont’d)
Dr. Jacoby visits Nadine at “Run Silent, Run Drapes” – Night
Sarah watches boxing on T.V. – Night
Audrey talks to Charlie in their home – Night (This is a continuation of the conversation between these characters from the previous episode albeit in a different room of their home. They are wearing the same clothes.)
James Hurley performs at the Roadhouse – Night
Big Ed eats soup in his Gas Farm – Night

Part 14: We are like the dreamer.
Day 11: Saturday, October 1 (Cont’d)

From his Buckhorn hotel room, Gordon calls Sheriff Truman in Twin Peaks – Day
Albert, Tammy, Gordon and Diane in the Buckhorn hotel – Day
Truman, Hawk, Bobby and Andy arrest Chad at the T.P. Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Truman, Hawk, Bobby and Andy visit Jackrabbit’s Palace – Day
Andy, Lucy, Chad, Naido and Drunk in the T.P. Sheriff’s Dept. jail – Night
James and Freddie at the Great Northern Hotel – Night
Sarah at the Elk’s Point #9 Bar – Night
Lissie performs at the Roadhouse – Night

Part 15: There’s some fear in letting go.
Day 11: Saturday, October 1 (Cont’d)

Nadine visits Ed at the Gas Farm – Day
Ed and Walter visit Norma at the Double R – Day

Day 10: Friday, September 30
Mr. C visits Phillip Jeffries above the convenience store – Night (Mr. C asks Jeffries if he called him “five days ago.” This makes sense if the phone call scene from Part 2 took place on Sunday the 24th after midnight.)

Day 11: Saturday, October 1 (Cont’d)
Steven, Gersten and Cyril in the woods – Day
Cyril and Carl Rodd at the Fat Trout Trailer Park – Day
James and Freddie visit the Roadhouse – Night
Chantal assassinates Duncan Todd and Roger in Las Vegas – Night
Hawk and Bobby lock up James and Freddie in the Twin Peaks jail – Night
Chantal and Hutch eating fast food in their van – Night
Cooper eats chocolate cake and watches Sunset Blvd. in his Las Vegas home – Night
The Log Lady calls Hawk from her log cabin – Night
Hawk informs Truman, Bobby, Andy and Lucy of the Log Lady’s death – Night
The Veils play at the Roadhouse – Night

Part 16: No Knock, No Doorbell 
Day 11: Saturday, October 1 (Cont’d)
Mr. C and Richard check out the coordinates in Twin Peaks while Jerry observes – Night
Day 12: Sunday, October 2
Chantal and Hutch and Las Vegas FBI stake out Dougie and Janey-E’s home – Day
The Mitchum brothers, Bushnell, Janey-E and Sonny Jim visit Cooper in the hospital – Day
Gordon in a Buckhorn hotel – Day
Phil Bisby calls Bushnell in Cooper’s hospital room – Day
A Polish accountant in a fit of road rage kills Chantal and Hutch – Day
Cooper wakes up in the hospital and calls the Mitchum brothers at home – Day
Cooper drives Janey-E and Dougie to the Silver Mustang Casino – Day
Diane receives a text from Mr. C in a Buckhorn hotel bar – Day
Diane visits Gordon, Tammy and Albert in their room – Day
Diane and MIKE in the Red Room – ?
Cooper says goodbye to Janey-E and Sonny Jim at the Silver Mustang – Day
Cooper rides with the Mitchum brothers and “Andie” sisters to their jet – Day
Audrey and Charlie in the Roadhouse/Audrey in a white room – ?

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Odds and Ends: Shaun the Sheep Movie / Straight Outta Compton

StraightOuttaSomewhere

Yesterday I took in a perversely designed double feature of Shaun the Sheep Movie and Straight Outta Compton — with the idea that juxtaposing a G-rated family-friendly animation and a “hard-R” gangsta-rap epic might illustrate something about the “duality of man” (as Full Metal Jacket‘s Private Joker would say) — and found myself thoroughly enjoying and appreciating both precisely because of this juxtaposition.

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Shaun the Sheep Movie (Mark Burton/Richard Starzak, UK, 2015) – Theatrical viewing / Rating: 8.0

Produced by the venerable Aardman Animation Studios, Shaun the Sheep Movie might be devoid of the explicit social criticism and full-blown surrealism that makes ostensible “kids films” like Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Babe: Pig in the City such subversive delights but it’s nonetheless within hailing distance of those crazy masterworks in its delightful premise of a cute critter plunked down in an imposing urban setting (in this case the titular sheep must venture into the generic “Big City” to rescue his amnesiac farmer/owner). In case you weren’t aware, Shaun is completely free of spoken dialogue for the entirety of its 86-minute running time and thus harks back to the days of silent cinema in its use of pure visual humor and image-based storytelling; the way a group of live sheep camouflage themselves against a large bus-terminal poster advertising a trip to the country is but one example of the film’s many splendid sight gags. Whenever the human characters do speak, their voices sound like gibberish — not unlike the adult characters in a Peanuts cartoon — and the Chicago Reader‘s Ben Sachs has convincingly argued that the wordless filmmaking that results recalls the majesty of silent landmarks like Sunrise and The Crowd. I ultimately found the lack of reliance on dialogue/verbal humor incredibly refreshing and would rate Shaun the Sheep Movie a close second to Inside Out as animated/family film of the year.

Straight Outta Compton (F. Gary Gray, USA, 2015) – Theatrical viewing / Rating: 8.5

Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton is the best superhero-origin film of recent years (even better than X-Men: First Class, dude) in the way that it charts the rise of rap supergroup N.W.A. by first introducing each of its individual members and then pitting them against the music-industry supervillains (i.e., Jerry Heller and Suge Knight) who threaten to tear the team apart. The fact that Compton has already become a cultural phenomenon must be seen as a testament to how hungry general audiences are for an alternative to Hollywood’s lily-white summer programming. While the film is ultimately a triumph of directing over screenwriting (it is, as its critics have noted, worse off for soft-pedaling N.W.A.’s misogyny), there are still a million reasons to go see this on the big screen. Chief among them: it’s the first post-Ferguson film to acknowledge America’s police brutality and racism problems and — even though they may be couched within the framework of a musical biopic and period piece — their unflinching depiction still feels monumentally important for this reason. Plus, from a cinematic perspective, the whole thing is beautifully realized by F. Gary Gray (Friday) who, along with the great D.P. Matty Libatique, makes the Compton-milieu of the late 1980s and early 1990s come thrillingly alive. Most surprising of all though is how emotional it all feels, teetering at times on the verge of turning into a full-fledged male-weepie, but always remaining anchored by Jason Mitchell’s charismatic-but-naturalistic star turn as Eric “Eazy-E” Wright. One question lingers: after Love and Mercy and now this, has it become a rule that musical biopics must cast Paul Giamatti as a sleazy character in a bad hairpiece?


Odds and Ends: Top Five and Cool Apocalypse

Top Five (Chris Rock, USA, 2014) – Theatrical viewing / Rating: 8.0

Film Review Top Five

Though I’ve long admired his stand-up comedy, Top Five is the first film I’ve seen that was actually directed by Chris Rock (it’s his third feature). There are occasional tonal inconsistencies — there almost always are when anyone other than Jean Renoir tries to meld comedy and drama — but this is, on the whole, a smart, raunchy and very funny satire of celebrity and black life in 21st century America. As a cinematic vehicle, it is worthy of Rock’s considerable talents as a writer and performer but it’s also obvious that Rock is a real filmmaker too. The plot charts the relationship between Andre Allen (Rock), an actor who’s trying to branch out from his “early, funny work” and be taken seriously by starring in a drama about a slave rebellion in 18th century Haiti, and Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), the New York Times reporter who’s assigned to spend the day interviewing him. The looming tragedy of Allen’s impending nuptials to a shallow reality-T.V. star (Gabrielle Union) is thrown into relief by the very real chemistry exhibited between Allen and Brown. It’s likely that some of the viewers who respond to the sweetness displayed in the romantic scenes, however, might also head for the aisles during a flashback constructed around an elaborate but crude gag involving four-way hotel-room sex between Allen, a couple of hookers and an unscrupulous promoter played by Cedric the Entertainer. Still, those who stick with it until the end might find Top Five‘s heart and brains sneaking up on them. It helps that Rock adopts some sturdy models for his well-structured film: the Woody Allen influence is obvious but it wasn’t until Andre’s revelatory third-act visit to the Comedy Cellar that I realized this is essentially a remake of Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels. I was also inordinately fond of how what seems like a throwaway joke about Charlie Chaplin being “the KRS-One of comedy” receives an unexpected and hilarious payoff about 30 minutes later when rapper DMX turns up to “sing” Chaplin’s immortal “Smile.” Finally, it must be noted that Rock really knows how to end a movie. Many lesser directors would’ve been tempted to include an extra scene, or at least a few more lines of dialogue, but the abruptness of Rock’s final cut to black flirts with the sublime.

ca1

In the shameless promotion department, I’m happy to report that my indie feature Cool Apocalypse now has a teaser trailer, which I’m embedding via vimeo below. The film will have its first sneak-preview screening this Sunday night at a wine bar in Chicago for cast, crew, backers and invited guests only. A free wine tasting will precede the screening. Any Chicago-area readers of this blog who would like an invitation to the event should contact me at mikeygsmith@gmail.com and I can provide you with more details about the screening. Cheers!

Cool Apocalypse Trailer from Michael Smith on Vimeo.


Odds and Ends: Welcome to New York and Bird People

Welcome to New York (Abel Ferrara, USA/France, 2014) – Illegal Download / Rating: 8.2

welcome

Welcome to New York, Abel Ferrara’s thinly disguised dramatization of the Dominique Strauss Kahn scandal starring Gerard Depardieu and Jacqueline Bisset, has predictably been a lightning rod for controversy since premiering direct to video-on-demand in France last May. The film begins with a series of debauched sexual encounters (let’s just say that champagne and ice cream are put to creative use) between Depardieu’s “Mr. Devereaux,” an international financial bigwig, and hired prostitutes — before culminating in a recreation of Kahn’s alleged sexual assault of a Guinean hotel maid (for which the IMF chief was exonerated but nonetheless forever sinking his Presidential hopes). If you can make it past the chaos of this opening 30-minute bacchanal, which not only avoids titillation but feels awkward and depressing by design (courtesy of Ken Kelsch’s cool and distanced camerawork), the film then fascinatingly shifts registers for its second and third acts. Next up are lengthy scenes showing Devereaux being arrested, booked and taken from one holding cell to another by real police officers — some of whom were involved in Kahn’s actual booking. This sequence is practically a documentary and contains the only moments in the movie where one is likely to feel sympathy for the monstrous Devereaux (especially when the now-morbidly obese Depardieu is forced to strip naked). The final act sees Devereaux, free on bail, being joined by his wife, Simone (Bisset), in a New York townhouse and engaging in a series of electrifying domestic arguments in which the Gallic thesps are really allowed to let it fly. Many critics have drawn comparisons between Welcome to New York and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street since both films use sexual depravity as a metaphor for the decadence of late capitalism. The differences between the directors’ approaches, however, are probably more instructive: while I find nothing immoral or irresponsible about Scorsese’s making a dark screwball comedy out of a real-life tragedy, I have to confess that Ferrara’s take — an uncompromising “feel bad” venture in the vein of Pasolini’s Salo — is probably more apposite. One measure of its effectiveness? Kahn and his wife are suing the filmmakers.

IFC Films will release Welcome to New York in a censored R-rated version in the U.S. next year. Ferrara’s original version can be illegally downloaded via the usual places.

Bird People (Pascale Ferran, France, 2014) – Video on Demand / Rating: 8.4

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Gary Newman (The Good Wife‘s Josh Charles, superbly understated) is a Silicon Valley executive who travels to France on business and, while bivouacking at the Paris Hilton, experiences a panic attack that will alter his destiny forever. His story is intercut with that of Audrey Camuzet (Anaïs Demoustier, dangerously cute), a young, working-class student and hotel maid whose job both pays the bills and affords her the opportunity to improve her English by conversing with the guests. While the parallel editing between these narrative threads serves to clue viewers in that the characters’ lives will eventually cross, exactly how, when and why this happens is in a manner so eccentric that that no first-time viewer will ever see it coming. Pascale Ferran’s whimsical comedy/drama takes such a bizarre left turn at about the one hour mark, in fact, that even many of the viewers who have admired it up to that point are likely to mentally check out. Those who are searching for something delightfully different, however, may find themselves rewarded by an eccentric character study that ends up being less interested in realism than it might first appear. The history of the cinema is in many ways the history of showing how lonely souls connect; I, for one, am grateful to Ferran for presenting her particular version within the context of a broader allegory about the desire for human transcendence. When viewed in this light, much of the film’s first half makes a different kind of retrospective sense — such as the way the filmmakers casually eavesdrop on passengers’ conversations on a commuter train, and the way a child looks up with amazement — of a kind that the mature, “adult” Newman is no longer capable of — at the awe-inspiring sight of a plane taking flight.

Bird People is currently available for “rent” on various digital platforms including iTunes and Amazon.com.


Odds and Ends: Norte, The End of History and Manakamana

Norte, The End of History (Lav Diaz, Philippines, 2013) – Gene Siskel Film Center / Rating: 9.7

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Chicago movie buffs should make it a point to see Lav Diaz’s monumental Norte, the End of History, which will have its local premiere this Saturday, September 6, as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s ambitious Filipino Cinema series (and then screen only once more, on Saturday, September 27). This 4-hour-plus transposition of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment to the contemporary Philippines is easily one of the most important film events of the year. Diaz, a profoundly modern filmmaker, reminds us why Dostoevsky’s 19th-century novel will always be sadly relevant — because pretentious and confused young men will always come up with half-baked philosophical theories to justify their supposed moral superiority. Diaz’s real masterstroke, however, is to essentially split Dostoevsky’s protagonist into three separate characters: Fabian (Sid Lucero) is the chief Raskolnikov figure, a law-school dropout who commits the horrific and senseless double murder of a loan shark and her daughter; Joaquin (Archie Alemania), a family man and laborer, is falsely accused of the crime and sentenced to a lengthy prison term; Eliza (Angeli Bayani), Joaquin’s wife, must consequently roam the countryside and look for odds jobs in order to provide for her and Joaquin’s young children. By having Dostoevsky’s themes of crime, punishment and redemption correspond to three characters instead of one, Diaz retains the Russian author’s trademark first-person psychological intensity while also offering a panoramic view of society that more closely resembles that of Count Tolstoy. Please don’t let the extensive running time scare you: like Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day, another favorite work of art that Norte resembles, not a minute of screen time here is wasted.

The complete schedule for the Filipino Cinema: New Directions/New Auteurs series can be found here.

Manakamana (Stephanie Spray/Pacho Velez, USA/Nepal, 2013) – On Demand / Rating: 8.1

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Let’s face it: the vast majority of what pass for feature documentaries these days are merely works of video journalism. In these “talking heads”-studded extravaganzas, which are increasingly clogging up precious space in America’s arthouse theaters, content is everything. The best that can be said about their cinematography and sound design is that they are “functional.” I happen to like some such movies but I also know damn well that I am likely to get the same thing out of watching them on an iPhone that I will get out of watching them on a 40-foot cinema screen. That’s why it brings me great pleasure to say that I recently caught up to Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s Manakamana, a non-fiction film full of remarkable sights and sounds that proves again, if further proof is needed, that Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab is almost single-handedly rescuing the documentary form by producing non-fiction films of real aesthetic value. As in the SEL’s mesmerizing 2012 fishing-boat doc cum horror movie Leviathan, the focus here is more experiential (and experimental) than informational. The premise is that the camera stays inside of a 5×5-foot cable car as it makes 11 journeys, carrying visitors to and from the sacred “Manakamana temple,” through the remote Himalayan mountains in Nepal. Each of the 11 journeys was captured in a single 10-minute take on 16mm film and all of the edits between shots have been cleverly disguised by cover of darkness (a la Hitchcock’s Rope). The result is that viewers get to casually hang out with a wide swath of humanity — cell-phone-wielding teenagers, chatty elderly women, jamming musicians, sacrificial goats and even a couple of American tourists — and are asked to simply observe them against the background of an ever-changing jungle landscape. A fascinating, immersive experience.

Manakamana is now available for rental or purchase on various digital platforms, including iTunes.


Odds and Ends: A Summer’s Tale and Life Itself

A Summer’s Tale (Rohmer, France, 1996) – Theatrical Viewing / Rating: 7.9

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In much the same way that the Humphrey Bogart-vehicle Dead Reckoning can be seen as the quintessential film noir — by being a virtual checklist of all of the genre’s conventions — in spite of the fact that it’s not very good, so too can A Summer’s Tale be deemed the “ultimate Eric Rohmer movie” in spite of falling far short of the master’s best work. All of the key Rohmer ingredients are here (which might be part of the problem): familiar from La Collectionneuse, Pauline at the Beach and The Green Ray is the beach locale during summertime; from all six of the Moral Tales is the dilemma of a young man (Melvil Poupaud) torn between multiple — and vastly different — women; and from countless other Rohmer films is an academic protagonist (this time a mathematician and musician studying “sea shanties”) sidetracked by l’amour fou. Poupaud, half-way between being the child actor discovered by Raul Ruiz and the mature adult performer in movies by Arnaud Desplechin, Xavier Dolan and others, is appealing, but Amanda Langlet steals the show as his ambiguous love interest/friend Margot. The theme of thwarted desire is as keen and amusing as ever but those familiar with Rohmer’s oeuvre will know that he’s done this kind of thing much better elsewhere. Even within the “Tales of the Four Seasons,” the late film cycle to which it belongs, this isn’t within hailing distance of such masterworks as A Tale of Winter or An Autumn Tale (though it’s infinitely preferable to the dull A Tale of Springtime). Still, diehard Rohmer fans will want to seek out A Summer’s Tale: it never got a proper theatrical release in the U.S. until now and this new HD restoration renders Rohmer’s photography of the sunny Dinard locations as appealing as one could hope for.

Life Itself (Steve James, USA, 2014) – On Demand / Rating: 6.9

Roger Ebert & Gene Siskel

I recently and belatedly caught up, via video on demand, to Life Itself, Steve James’s much-lauded bio-doc/adaptation of Roger Ebert’s much-lauded memoir of the same title. While I found much to admire within it (I have too much respect for both Ebert and James not to), I also was not as impressed as I hoped I would be. Life Itself feels almost like two separate documentaries (one about Ebert’s life, the other about his death) that have been mashed together but that never quite cohere into a completely satisfying whole. The film about Ebert’s death is the better of the two: scenes of his final months, with his loving wife Chaz beside him in the hospital, in rehab and at home, while occasionally painful to watch, are the heart of the movie and really reveal director James’s humane and guiding hand. The poignancy of these scenes, which underscore the theme of “dying with dignity,” are where one feels the deepest connection between filmmaker and subject. The rest of Life Itself — consisting of talking-head interviews, archival clips from old episodes of Siskel and Ebert, an Ebert sound-alike narrating from the great critic’s memoir, etc. — is more anonymous and feels like standard made-for-PBS fodder; as enjoyable as much of that stuff is, it never feels like more than an unnecessary reduction of an already fine book. Life Itself begins with Ebert’s now-famous quote about cinema being an empathy-generating machine. While the two hours that follow generate more than their fair share of empathy, and are therefore well worth seeing, prospective viewers also shouldn’t be expecting another Hoop Dreams.


Odds and Ends: Elaine May

anewleaf Elaine May and Walter Matthau in A New Leaf (1970)

Is Elaine May America’s most underrated living filmmaker? Even though I first saw — and loved — her trenchant critique-of-masculinity/long-dark-night-of-the-soul gangster epic Mikey and Nicky back in the 1990s, I never bothered to check out the rest of her four-film oeuvre until recently. This was no doubt in part due to the disastrous critical reception of her 1987 buddy-comedy Ishtar — her most recent, and presumably final, movie as a director — but also because I had subconsciously and wrongly assigned partial authorship of Mikey and Nicky to lead actor John Cassavetes. Surely the godfather of independent American cinema and his old pal Peter Falk had improvised all of their dialogue, hadn’t they? (They hadn’t.) I finally got around to watching May’s directorial debut A New Leaf while looking for a female-directed film to illustrate the “screwball comedy” in a class (thanks, Paul Mollica!) and was blown away by what I saw: not only is it uproariously funny, it’s also exceedingly dark, and it updates screwball conventions for the Seventies in a manner similar to what Altman did to film noir with The Long Goodbye. Watching the terrific Walter Matthau, who can charitably be described as “funny looking,” doing a Cary Grant impersonation is as delightfully perverse as seeing nebbishy Elliot Gould playing the hard-boiled Philip Marlowe. I was also fascinated to find that May’s directorial follow-up, the Neil Simon-scripted The Heartbreak Kid essentially reverses the narrative trajectory of her debut: A New Leaf is about a wealthy bachelor, Henry Graham (Matthau), who agrees to marry a loopy heiress, Henrietta Lowell (May), in order to maintain his fortune, despite his having no interest in women. Although Henry initially plots Henrietta’s murder, he eventually learns to care for her and resigns himself to his fate as her husband. The Heartbreak Kid, by contrast, is about Lenny Cantrow (Charles Grodin), a young Jewish newlywed, who extricates himself from a marriage in order to obtain the blonde shiksa of his dreams (Cybil Shepard). After getting remarried, a chilling finale suggests that this sociopathic man is even more unsatisfied than before.

ishtar Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty in Ishtar (1987)

What impresses me the most about Elaine May’s first three features is how deceptively “entertaining” they are, using the conventions of various genres (screwball comedy, romantic comedy and gangster movie, respectively) in order to genuinely challenge viewer expectations in regards to character identification and narrative resolution. Just watch, for instance, The Heartbreak Kid and The Graduate (directed by May’s old comedy-act partner Mike Nichols) side-by-side: May’s film is a disturbing comedy that daringly asks us to identify with a truly selfish and terrible person while Nichols flatters us by having us side with the Dustin Hoffman character in opposition to a world of hopelessly square adults. Is it any wonder that The Graduate, which shrewdly marries its emulation of French New Wave aesthetics and vague anti-authoritarianism to a careful flattering of viewer prejudices, is the better known and more beloved of the two works? If Ishtar isn’t quite on the level of May’s first three movies, it’s still one of the best Hollywood comedies of recent decades — and one that deserved a far better reception than it got. Transplanting the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby road-movie formula to a fictional Middle-Eastern country roiled by real political unrest and international intrigue was a bold move on May’s part, and her direction of Hoffman and Warren Beatty is brilliant. Those actors have never been better — and they’ve certainly never been funnier. And yet the film’s financial failure ignominiously brought down the curtain on Elaine May’s directing career (even while she’s continued to find success as a writer and actress for films by Nichols, Woody Allen and others). Right now, my fondest cinephile wish is for the script that May has been developing with her husband, the 90-year-old director Stanley Donen (yes, he of Singin’ in the Rain fame), to start production soon. The list of the greatest movies never made has grown long enough.

You can check out the trailer for The Heartbreak Kid (1972) via YouTube below:


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